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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > December 2013 > Terry Stops (Blocking the Path of Exit): State of Ohio v. Goodloe

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Terry Stops (Blocking the Path of Exit): State of Ohio v. Goodloe

Question: Is the act of blocking a path of exit to a suspect a minimally intrusive Terry stop or a seizure?
Quick Answer: The act of blocking a suspect’s path of exit constitutes a seizure, unless a reasonable person would believe he was free to leave.

State of Ohio v. Goodloe, Tenth Appellate District, Franklin County, Nov. 7, 2013 
Facts: Two officers in a marked car were stopped at an intersection when they observed Dwight Goodloe at the corner. Goodloe looked like he was going to cross the street, but when he saw the police cruiser, he hesitated. The officers noticed bulges on both sides of Goodloe’s pants. They then drove past Goodloe and saw him cross the street and walk through a parking lot. The officers turned around and pulled closer to Goodloe as he walked down the sidewalk. The officers got out, parked on the street next to Goodloe, and blocked Goodloe’s path by standing in front of and beside him. One of the officers asked Goodloe if he knew of anyone looking into cars in the parking lot Goodloe had just walked through. Goodloe replied that he did not know anything. Officers then asked Goodloe if he had a firearm on him. Goodloe did not respond, but sighed, dropped his shoulder, and put his head down. The officer took that action as an omission and immediately reached for the bulge on the right side and seized a gun.
Importance: The court determined that because one officer was blocking Goodloe’s route on the sidewalk and the other was within a foot or two of him, Goodloe had been seized by police. This action occurred right after the cruiser had turned around, followed Goodloe, and pulled up right next to him. Additionally, the fact that officers asked about criminal activity when they approached could cause a reasonable person to believe he was not free to leave. Because the officers seized Goodloe without a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the stop violated the Fourth Amendment.
Keep in Mind: Remember, a Terry stop is not a seizure of a suspect, but a tool to stop an individual for investigatory purposes. The test is whether a reasonable person would think he could walk away from you, and that is based on your conduct. If the officers had not followed the suspect, pulled up directly next to him, or blocked his path on the sidewalk, the court may have found their actions to constitute a valid Terry stop.
More on Terry Stops
But, I decided not to talk to you, so let me go. While on patrol, you are dispatched to a hit-skip accident involving a pedestrian. You identify a probable suspect during your investigation. You find him walking home and pull over to talk to him. He starts to walk up, but then begins to back away, saying he needs to get something from his apartment and starts messing around with something at his waistband. You decide this activity looks suspicious, call for back up, get out of the cruiser, point a Taser at the suspect, and order him to the ground. He complies and you conduct a pat-down, finding a loaded .380 semi-automatic in his underwear. Did you have a reasonable basis to detain him? The court in Johnson says yes. While the act of walking away from a police car or acting unusually would not justify a Terry stop, the stop is proper if a reasonable police officer would believe this activity could cause a risk of harm to him. State of Ohio v. Johnson, Second Appellate District, Montgomery County, Oct. 25, 2013
I know you have done it before, so maybe you are doing it again. While on patrol, you see a car parked in front of a local business with two individuals inside. One is a known heroin user. You circle the block again, see the car is still there, and decide to investigate. You get to the car and ask for the driver’s license, run the license and find it to be invalid. You go back to the car and have both the driver and passenger get out. You then notice the passenger is leaning over the cruiser weirdly and find he has his shoe halfway off. You ask him to remove his shoe and find a syringe of heroin. Have you conducted a proper Terry stop? The court in Fox says no. The officer did not see any potential criminal activity and only had suspicion because he recognized one of the individuals as a past heroin user. A person’s past reputation or record alone does not equal a reasonable, particularized suspicion that the person is engaged in criminal activity. State of Ohio v. Fox, Fifth Appellate District, Richland County, Oct. 30, 2013